The Atlanta Falcons are playing in their second Super Bowl ever in just five days. That’s five calendar days, if you’re counting. In their 51 year history, the Falcons have rarely sniffed this stage. Now they’re getting a big whiff, and it smells fantastic. But over the last couple of days, there’s been some ... distractions. Little things popping up at inopportune moments.
First there’s all the chatter about Kyle Shanahan’s impending departure and his desire to poach every offensive coach ever. Then for 15 strange minutes, Shanahan’s backpack goes missing last night. Throw in a potential prescription drug scandal and it’s already been quite the week. But wait, there’s more! Devonta Freeman’s agent is ready to negotiate his new contract. Like right now. Not in a week, once the Super Bowl is over. Not during the offseason that will precede the last year of his rookie contract. Right now. Immediately.
In case you missed it, here’s how it’s played out. Yesterday Devonta’s agent seized the moment and started lobbying for a shiny new contract. (Credit to Michael Silver for the next two quotes.)
"It's time for the Falcons to pay him like the elite back he is," Freeman's agent, Kristin Campbell, told NFL.com. "I expect them to make him a priority this offseason ... [d]uring the season it has been frustrating for Devonta," Campbell said. "He has been trying to establish himself as a top-three back in the league, and yet when you look at his snaps, he gets significantly less opportunity than the others vying to be in that category.
Then Freeman himself is goaded into verbalizing that frustration.
"Oh, I'm certainly struggling with it, just because I'm a competitor," Freeman said. "I just want to be around the ball as much as I can, to help the team win. Now we're in the Super Bowl, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I don't know how many carries or touches I'm gonna get going into this game, but I'm gonna try to make the most of every opportunity I get."
Let me be clear: there’s nothing wrong with wanting proper compensation. There’s also nothing wrong with wanting to contribute as much as possible. As a football fan, I love when my favorite players seek out an opportunity to shine. It’s what the best of the best do. But there’s a time and a place for these conversations. The Monday before the Super Bowl is not that time. In fact, it’s the opposite of that time; the anti-time, if you will.
Let’s consider the numbers. Freeman racked up 227 rushing attempts this season. (He had 265 in 2015.) He racked up 54 receptions this season. (He had 73 in 2015.) His touchdown totals (11 rushing/2 receiving versus 11 rushing/3 receiving) and total yardage (1541 versus 1634) were essentially identical. Despite the drop in carries/receptions, he’s arguably been more efficient in 2016. He’s absolutely one of the best running backs in the league. These numbers absolutely justify and require a substantial raise. But all that said, Tevin Coleman isn’t taking over.
Coleman had 118 carries this season. Contrast that with his 87 carries in 2015. So what gives? What’s Freeman upset about? One word: touchdowns. Coleman only scored one touchdown in 2015. He scored 11 this season, 8 rushing and 3 receiving. That’s not a strange, inexplicable phenomenon. The Falcons have fielded an historically good offense this season. They’ve been prolific. They simply couldn’t produce like this in 2015.
I’ll be honest, I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated by the timing, I’m frustrated Devonta’s frustrated. But ultimately I know Devonta’s head is in the right place, because he says stuff like this:
Do I think head coach Dan Quinn is upset with Devonta? Maybe a little. But he’s a young, dynamic football player. He’s done well in this league and without him, the Falcons wouldn’t be in the Super Bowl. He’s well-intentioned, and to be honest, I can’t say I’d handle this differently if I were him. But in a perfect world, under ideal circumstances, this could’ve waited.